Extinction of Cultures

Struggles faced by the surviving tribe of Yanomami

Luz Martinez, Reporter

There are approximately 150 million tribal people living in about 60 countries across the world. According to Survival International their land ownership rights are recognized internationally although not all are being properly respected.

One of the most secluded tribes in the world made their home in North Sentinel Island, India. Hence their name the Sentinelese, because no one knows what they call themselves. The Sentinelese are extremely hostile towards outsiders, according to Survival International.

In 2006, two fishermen whose boat drifted into the shallows near the island were killed by the Sentinelese and then buried in shallow graves, according to Survival International. All contact from the outside is severely prohibited. The latest attempt to contact them was to confirm they survived the 2004 tsunami that swept right over their island.

In contrast from the Sentinelese tribe the Yanomami people are tolerant towards outsiders, according to Survival International . They are the largest relatively isolated tribe in South America. They live in the rain forests and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

According to Davi Kopenawa, a shaman to the Yanomami, the Yanomami are peaceful people who respect everything in nature. Kopenawa, said “every creature, rock, tree, and mountain has a spirit.”

Kopenawa, said,“Only those who know the xapiripë (spirits) can see them because the xapiripë are very small and bright like light. There are many, many xapiripë, thousands of xapiripë like stars.”

They believe strongly in equality among people. According to Survival International each community is independent from others with no recognition of chiefs, instead decisions are made in unison.

Their tranquility is being disturbed by intruders who claim they will only bring progress. In 1940s a demolition began with Brazilian government sending teams to delimit the frontier with Venezuela.

According to Progress can Kill the government’s Indian Protection Service and religious missionary groups established themselves there. This influx of people led to the first epidemics of measles and flu causing many Yanomami to die.

The suffering continued with the construction of a road running through the Amazon. Bulldozers drove through the community of Opiktheri wiping out two villages from diseases. Lasting impacts of the road were the bringing of colonists, diseases, and alcohol. Today cattle ranchers and colonists use the road as an access point to invade and deforest the Yanomami area, according to Progress can Kill.

There are up to 40,000 Brazilian gold miners invading their land, according to Progress can Kill. The miners shot them, destroyed many villages, and exposed them to diseases to which they had no immunity. Twenty percent of the Yanomami died in just seven years, according to Survival International.

According to according to Progress can Kill the Yanomami and CCPY, a Brazilian NGO, set up a Yanomami education project. Their goal is to raise awareness among the Yanomami of their rights. Yanomami teachers are being trained to teach reading, writing and maths in their communities, and as health agents by Urihi, a healthcare NGO.

To try and resolve their situation in 2004, Yanomami from 11 regions in Brazil met to form their own organisation, Hutukara (meaning ‘the part of the sky from which the earth was born), to defend their rights and run their own projects.